Photographer captures the many faces of disability

True face of disability: Ben Birt's photographs, including this one of Katie Butt, capture the many faces of disability. Picture: Ben Birt
True face of disability: Ben Birt's photographs, including this one of Katie Butt, capture the many faces of disability. Picture: Ben Birt

People living with a disability make up 20 percent of the Tasmanian population but, in a world saturated with images, they're often invisible.

Local photographer Ben Birt is using his photography, and his role as a disability support worker for Li-Ve Tasmania, to display that invisible face.

"My pictures capture the people I work with in their everyday lives," says Ben.

"My photos show Katie as the sociable, cafe-loving, comedian she is; everybody in Launceston knows her," he said.

"She's funny and friendly; she's outrageous and she's loud; she's uncompromising.

In the 10 years I've worked in disability support, I've noticed that it's still common for people with disabilities to be treated as objects of pity.

Ben Birt

"Denis is quiet and introspective; he watches - everything and everybody.

"Unlike Katie, who needs to be wherever she's going five minutes ago, Denis is in no hurry to get anywhere.

"I think these aspects of the two of them come out in the photos I take."

Capturing Denis Chugg: Ben's photographs provide an authentic look at the lives of people living with disability. Picture: Ben Birt

Capturing Denis Chugg: Ben's photographs provide an authentic look at the lives of people living with disability. Picture: Ben Birt

Ben's photography is both relatable and beautifully lit, but never posed or staged, and makes you feel as though you know someone you've never met.

His images represent the rich and varied lives and personalities of people who happen to have a disability.

"In the 10 years I've worked in disability support, I've noticed that it's still common for people with disabilities to be treated as objects of pity, having to overcome a tragic and disabling condition or, on the other hand, to be presented as heroes doing great feats to inspire non-disabled people," Ben said.

"People often feel more comfortable seeing images of people with disabilities smiling and happy, but I want you to see the people I know and the range of emotions they show. Nobody looks happy all the time," he said.

"Lack of representation or misrepresentation can give the idea that people with disability don't do real, normal, everyday things: shopping, going to cafés, having a girlfriend, going on holiday, hanging out with friends, enjoying a joke, annoying the neighbour's dog.

"I guess I want to challenge that by showing you my friends; these wonderful, sometimes peculiar, people I work with - work for - having a laugh together in the park. Or showing Denis waiting for his mate, Bob the horse.'

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